His first experience had him swearing off “edibles”—food cooked with cannabis—for good. A friend’s homemade pot brownies had him reeling in sickness. But decades later, “Jeff the 420 Chef”—he declines to give his real name—has become one of the nation’s first cooks to privately caterer meals enhanced with marijuana…where it’s legal, of course.
And as of late, those places are rapidly growing in numbers. In the past two weeks, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. joined Colorado and the state of Washington in legalizing marijuana across the board. New York has joined numerous states in decriminalizing the mind-and-body-altering substance while nine others allow possession for medical use.
Marijuana’s medicinal and recreational benefits are being studied and promoted like never before. On the wave of social acceptance has come a slew of schemes in which to market the drug to the public—and not just at smoke shops, doctor’s offices, and on the shelves behind gas station counters.
Amateur and professional cooks are conceiving ways to use the enhanced spice in recipes for all of their patrons, making a special section at Whole Foods seem not so far-fetched.
Chefs have been on the trend for years, hosting underground dinner parties and after-hour meals for staff. In July of 2012, GQ baked and got baked with staff at Brooklyn’s famed Roberta’s for a one-night-only, three course, two cocktail fête du marijuana. In August, a writer for Boston magazine chased underground dinner parties featuring top chefs, ultimately scoring an exclusive invite.
Imagine quail eggs, bone marrow, and enoki mushrooms, all accented with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which induces marijuana’s side effects. Chefs in states with new legislation are already publicly experimenting with dishes for their menus.
But Jeff, who began his foray into pot gastronomy as a hobby, is rapidly turning it into a full-time pot-repreneurial business. He’s been traveling from coast to coast since early 2013 catering to celebrities (he won’t say who) and the upper echelons with a penchant for delectable edibles.
His cannabis-infused menus range from truffle tuna casserole and coconut chicken to French toast and omelets. Every meal is included, including desserts and yes, even wedding cakes. The possibilities of the types of cuisine that can be made are endless once you turn pot into butter (or oil) to cook with.
The sickness that Jeff experienced on his first encounter with edibles is common among home-baked goods, when the marijuana isn’t properly decarbed—a method of extracting the THC from the bud at high temperatures.
“When you cook with marijuana, you run the risk of getting plant matter in the base if you don’t decarb it right, which can make you sick,” Jeff explained to me over coffee and cannabis-infused cupcakes.
He says he has perfected the method to reduce the risk of falling ill. The decarbed marijuana is submerged in heated butter and oil for extended period of times, infusing the two. Straining away the reside leaves it light and clean, and the addition of sage, rosemary, garlic, and other herbs of his choosing make the butters versatile and flavorful. Olive and coconut oils appease his vegan, or health conscious, clients and he’s even created cannabis-infused spices. “But, you won’t get sick from any of them.”
Still, proceed with caution. I had one, small bite of a chocolate cupcake, and was on my ass in an hour. The presence of marijuana was almost unrecognizable. Had I never had an edible before, I wouldn’t have known it was baked with THC. Jeff had warned me that it was a strong batch—and I’m already a lightweight—so when it hit, I could only stay vertical for a short time before I had to call it a night. Would I eat it again? Hell yes. The taste was that good.
But if you’re not careful, overeating—or eating oversaturated—edibles can be your worst enemy. Reporting on the trend of edibles for The New York Times, Maureen Dowd experienced a hallucinatory (and highly paranoid) state in which she thought she had died after eating a chocolate bar made with THC. The next day, an edible plant’s medical consultant explained the factors behind her episode: intake of cannabis edibles should be highly limited as the effects are much stronger and longer lasting than smoking the buds.
In order to prevent a similar situation from happening during any of his meals, Jeff test-cooks every dish before the event to get the host’s desired outcome just right. “Each thing that I make has its own strength—they are all different. It really depends on the actual event.” He also moderates how much is served, reserving second helpings for take-home bags at the end of the night.
When it starts to kick in—typically within an hour—“all these people that are normally so buttoned up start acting so relaxed and easy going,” Jeff explained of seeing how guests’ personalities evolve throughout the meal. “By the end of the night, even the toughest guys are having the greatest time.”
It may seem like a three-course-meal evoking a constant high while simultaneously catering to the after effects (read: munchies) might be all fun and games—which it can be—but Jeff started experimenting for a much more serious cause: for a friend whose mom was suffering the side effects of chemotherapy. In addition to headaches and restlessness, she had lost her appetite and a lot of weight.
So, he gave her a cupcake to try. “All of a sudden two hours later, she would get hungry and start eating. Her headaches would go away and she would start sleeping better.” Through trial and error he began crafting different dishes—chicken, sautéed vegetables, and, of course, desserts. Then came his collection of specialized butters and oils.
“The ones that I make, which are very unique and specific, are based on the characteristics of certain strains of marijuana,” Jeff explained. “Some make you sleepy, some are good for headaches, and some wake you up. So, by figuring out what that person is trying to achieve, it can be a really enjoyable and beneficial experience.”
Word got out. He cooked for other people in similar circumstances to his ill friend and, through word of mouth, began catering private dinner parties across the country. His service is free (and discreet). Clients supply transportation, lodging, and ingredients, including the preferred strain of ganja. Whether you want your guests bombed by dish two or hour six is completely up to you. Jeff can make it happen.
Unlike going to a dispensary and picking up pre-packaged edibles, where most food items are the same THC across the board, Jeff tailors the potency of his dishes to the specific needs of each client, be it recreational or medicinal. “You can’t really enjoy the experience of a full meal or snack,” Jeff said of consumer edibles. “They also taste pretty terrible, even though it’s getting better.”
The taste of marijuana shouldn’t dominate the food. It should be more of an accent, he explained, but—if done well—it won’t change the flavor of the foods at all. “Just enough to give it that special smoky flavor.”
By next year everyone will be able to try Jeff’s creations from the comfort of their own home. He’s introducing a YouTube channel next April. Viewers will be able to learn his techniques and master his recipes, which are already posted to his website. Having been in talks with networks for a potential reality show, the segments will double as an audition (or teaser) for what’s to come.
With a plan to set up an official headquarters in Colorado within the next few years and roll out a line of unannounced pot-based cooking products, “Jeff the 420 Chef” could quickly become the Julia Child/Martha Stewart of the pot world. Whole Foods and kitchens across the country should probably start carving out a (very chilled) section for him now.